Lessons from Jeffrey Eugenides

March 19th, 2009 No comments

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Jeffrey Eugenides speak about the writing of his Pulitzer winning novel Middlesex.

As Prof. Eugenides was talking about the NINE YEAR experience of researching, writing and rewriting, it struck me that his craft is in some ways the ultimate MACROmedia – the antithesis of trying to distill your thoughts into 140 characters and belching them out in real time.  There were, however, a number of nuggets of wisdom that he shared as a novelist to which a social media content creator can relate:

1) Eugenides shared that the most hated comment he receives after introducing himself is “I always wanted to be a novelist – I just never had the time” – implying that pretty much anyone could write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel given enough “time off”.  On the social media front, we often hear “How do you find time for that crazy stuff?  I’m too busy!”  Social media can indeed save you time used correctly and allows you to maintain more and different types of relationships at once.  It does not replace the in person networking that most businesspeople consider to be part of their careers, but it can greatly enhance it.  In short, you make time for the things you deem important and once you do, you’ll be surprised how efficient you get.  (Check out Ian Sohn’s great piece on making time for social media here).

2) “You can’t do too much research, but you can put too much in your book.” This is a helpful guiding principle to anyone who gives presentations on a regular basis.  The point of a presentation is never to download the complete exhaustive sum total of your knowledge on a subject – it is to include only what is relevant to your audience in a way that is compelling and will make an impression on them.

3) Individual identity trumps gender.  “I” is more important than “he” or “she”. This is a takeaway specifically from Eugenides’ struggle with the challenge of writing from the perspective of an intersex narrator, but I found it to be an applicable concept to my life.  Social media and the ways it allows us to express ourselves – in words, images, avatars, and connections enables self definition and expression that breaks the old business rules.  Social media can help us defy the paths that used to be set by education, company, old boy networks, etc.  Social media + the economic flat spin should make this even more true – the time is now to craft your own social media “I”.

WOMM Lessons from Adam Corolla?

March 10th, 2009 No comments

I’m hesitant to admit that I have learned anything from Adam “the Aceman” Corolla of Man Show, Loveline, and radio infamy.  However, stats don’t lie.  2 weeks after kicking off his podcast, Corolla has broken the 1M download barrier, quickly smoking download rates of his peers – like my hero Bill “the Sports Guy” Simmons. (Click here for specific podcast lessons from Ryan Spoon).

How did he do it?  Awesome website?  Nope – looks like an intern programmed it in 1999.  Advertising and promotion?  None.  Here’s what he’s done:

1) Ask people to spread the word. At the beginning and end of every one of the free podcasts, Adam mentions that he is doing this “gratis” and all he asks is for you the fan to spread it around.  This may sound simple, but many people are afraid to ask for help and this is a compelling reason to get over it and just ask.

2) No sponsors = no censors. Adam was fired from CBS’s Free FM format in late January, but will be paid through the end of the year as long as he doesn’t accept other “jobs”.  Thus he has no sponsors, which means he answers to no one and he can use the language and cover topics that his fans want and expect from him.

3) Ridiculously awesome content.  In his first three weeks he’s had Aisha Tyler, Larry Miller, Bill Simmons, Jimmy Kimmel, David Alan Grier are the list goes on.  These are people willing to stop by Adam’s house to promote a project and be able to be themselves without the concerns I mentioned on #2.

So, can we learn something about WOMM from Adam Corolla?  Hey, if Dr. Drew could live with him for so many years, he must have some redeeming qualities.

The JFK Principle

February 25th, 2009 1 comment

In my WeMedia talk this afternoon, I will be mentioning the JFK principle.

I am often asked – in and out of work – about how to get fans, customers, ambassadors, bloggers to do something FOR US.  This very approach is why most communities and outreach efforts never get off the ground and the disconnect that Mack Collier discussed in this blog post.  Most community building efforts fail because they are created in order to be monetized, yet communities will not grow and thrive around the concept of monetization.

In order for you to grow a community, you need find a core set of people who will find disproportionate value from what you can provide.  This could be information, a space to gather, entertainment, or a willing ear.  That audience will be the ones to offer you feedback and guidance on how to build a community (or any sort of engagement program) and the ones who will talk about it, help you recruit, etc.  So how do you find ask your core audience?  By asking (with apologies to JFK):

Ask not what your audience can do for you, but what you can do for your audience.

This is similar to the advice that we as a community offered to Recipecomparison.com here, but it is applicable in any number of social media strategies where you are trying to find your talkers.

Try taking this audience-centric approach and find the people for whom you can do the most.  They just might be the ones who can do the most for you regardless of their “influence levels”.

St. John Knit’s Caviar IS the New Black

February 19th, 2009 7 comments

I received a letter from Marie Gray, CEO of St. John Knit at home this week.

I assumed it would be about the economy.  That’s why we hear from CEO’s these days, right?

It wasn’t.  It was a 5 paragraph letter about a major change in the staple color of the staple fabric of the classic clothing line: the black Santana knit.  For various reasons including the environmental impact of dyes, the fabric color dying process has changed over the years.   Marie Gray writes that she had noticed that recent “black” collections had a bluish cast and had migrated far too close to their navy blue color.  So, they innovated.  They created a new process that would use less water and energy and produce a truer black that will be called “Caviar”.

Why does this matter to loyal customers like me?  In short, your old stuff won’t match the new stuff.  Part of the beauty of the items is that they last forever and you can mix and match items from lines and years.  It is garanimals for grownups.  The letter mentions that all stores and consultants have been armed with swatches of old black, navy, and new caviar for people to compare for themselves and prepare for the changes.  It also reinforces St. John’s commitment to craftsmanship at a time when other brands are focused on discounting which re-reinforces why this is a brand worthy of of a weekend – as well as my loyalty and respect.  While I wont be making any big purchases any time soon, the swatch compare will drive me into the store on my next NYC trip and who knows, maybe caviar will be hard to resist.

WeMedia ’09: Community Values

February 17th, 2009 No comments

I am excited to be in planning mode with my co-presenters for an upcoming workshop at WeMedia ’09 next week in Miami.

WeMedia Miami '09

BlogTalkRadio’s John Havens, Divine Caroline‘s Suha Araj, the Washington Times‘ Chuck DeFeo and I will be leading a workshop on growing community in a variety of different business contexts.   While prepping for this, I started thinking more about Mack Collier’s thoughts about Why Your Community Building Efforts Aren’t Working.   In this post, he hits on the disconnect between what most companies want (to market) and what their customers do not want from a community (to be marketed to).

So what is a brand marketer, digital strategist, or even a brand FAN to do to cross this chasm?  To address this in the positive, I want to quote another great thinker in the space – the head of creative for Ogilvy Interactive Jan Leth.  In a recent presentation on the future of advertising, he discusses the new organizing principle for brands and communities: Value Exchange

“The key to engagement with consumers is reciprocity or “value exchange”.  Consumers must get entertainment, utility, or information out of their engagement.”

So begin not by thinking about what you can “get” from your customers in a social media environment, but what you can provide them.  This could be great stories, the chance to know things first or you could simply be providing them with the utility of a place to congregate and talk amongst themselves.  The key is in the audience centric approach.   This same principle (the JFK “Ask Not…” principle) applies to any strategy involving blogger outreach as well.

My one potential addition to the list of ways to provide value through entertainment, utility, or information is validation.  I believe that a brand demonstrating it is listening and human, even when it can not change or solve a business issue, can drive loyalty and continued community.  Projects like MyStarbucksIdea and Ideastorm demonstrate this on a large scale – thousands of ideas, only a few of which make it into the business model, but all with their day in front of the brand and to be judged up or down the priority list by the court of public opinion.  Validation has emotional value only, but people will keep coming back for it.

For those unable to join in Miami, I’ll publish our collective list of killer community growth principles later next week.